“Sexy corn” is an actual Halloween costume that exists, which makes me very unsure if this is a world I want to live in anymore. Not because I’m clutching my pearls at all the slutty-slut-sluts walking around dressed as a Sexy French Fry. You do you, boo (unless your costume is racist/transphobic/glorifies sexual assault/is a fetishized depiction of a culture that isn’t yours/ is generally uncool.) I won’t lie and say I never showed up in fairy wings and a bra to a Halloween party in the days of my youth. Let she who is without a Sexy Cat costume cast the first stone.
The “sexy ____ costume” is as much a Halloween tradition as pumpkins and candy corns and subsequent trips to the dentist, and not just the sexy nurse, sexy pirate, and sexy witch. Anything can be sexy now. Sexy parakeets, sexy chewbacca, sexy Hulk Hogan, sexy lobster. The possibilities are endless! What an era to be alive in. While there was a time when the option to be sexy octopus or sexy flamingo wasn’t available and people only dressed up like regular animals, which was not sexy and thought to appease the restless souls of the dead, or they just stuck their heads inside pumpkins and were like, “Hey, I look good,” as Suzanna Labarre writes for Fast Company, Halloween has mostly always been about doing the sex. The Roman Catholic festival of All Saints’ Day, for example, which Labarre writes has heavily influenced modern Halloween traditions, began as a holiday to honor the souls of saints, martyrs, and loved ones passed. However, in later centuries, when people realized they weren’t likely to be starved to death by a potato famine or killed by the bubonic plague, Halloween became less centered on death and more about making babies, because hey! Babies live way longer now! Yay for modern science! Labarre cites historian Nicholas Rogers, who explains:
“Where killer epidemics declined in potency and the demographic fortunes of young people began to improve, at least after infancy, the spells and omens of Halloween increasingly focused upon future marriage prospects: who, when, whether one would marry; whether one’s partner would be handsome or faithful or chaste at marriage[…] “Halloween became one of those occasions in the ritual year[…] when young adolescents tried to channel their sexuality into more permanent union.”
During the 18th and 19th century, at a time when Labarre writes that European village life was strictly divided by gender, public festival like Halloween were one of the few opportunities young people had to mingle and show everyone how good they look. Hence, the sexy costume. At the time, the “sexy costume” consisted of “pantaloons or short skirts and milkmaid outfits[…] revealing costumes and some nudity.” According to Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at FIT, these outfits were the go-to outfit choice for women who attended masquerade balls in London and Paris.
Fast-forward to the 1970’s, when America’s sexy Halloween costumes started TURNING UP.
According to Slate’s Juliet Lapidos, the gay-ification of New York City’s Greenwich Village during the 70s “planted the seed” for today’s sexy costumes, which Lapidos attributes to the rise of drag culture and other forms of “rebellious costuming” at the time. And there you have it, the sexy Halloween costume: super gay!!!! Also, we now live in a culture where modesty isn’t valued, etc. etc. etc.
As Labarre writes, though cultural definitions of what is considered “sexy” change over time, sexy Halloween costumes probably aren’t going anywhere, because people like looking sexy on Halloween: “Costumes have always had an undercurrent of outlaw sexuality about them.” And people LOVE being sexual outlaws. Having one night a year to dress as Sexy Elmo can be liberating for some people who crave the escapism. Wearing a costume suggests that the wearer isn’t his/her self, and is therefore allowed to do things they wouldn’t usually do. Like being a sexy nurse. Sexy Halloween costumes have almost always been part of the holiday, and thanks to all the sexy money consumers spend on them every year, they probably always will be.